TRAVERSE CITY — A woman accused of driving with a drug in her blood during a crash that killed her mother wants a higher court to consider whether the law is unfairly punishing her.
Jennifer Lynn Greenwood, 39, pleaded guilty in 13th Circuit Court on Friday to operating a motor vehicle with any amount of THC — marijuana’s active component — in her system causing impairment of a bodily function. She did so on the condition that the state Court of Appeals weigh circuit court Judge Tom Power’s rulings on: whether state law and case rulings unjustly treat medical marijuana users and recreational users differently; and whether marijuana should be a Schedule 1 drug.
She can withdraw her plea if the higher court declines to take her appeal, Grand Traverse County assistant prosecutor Kit Tholen said.
Prosecutors agreed to drop the most serious charge Greenwood faced, Tholen said. Power had been set to try her on a charge of operating with any amount of THC in her system causing death. That charge stemmed from a Dec. 10 crash where Greenwood had been driving on U.S. 31 near Interlochen with her mother and daughter as passengers when she hit a patch of ice and struck an oncoming vehicle. The crash killed her mother Victoria Laviola, and injured Greenwood and her daughter.
She told police after the crash that she had smoked marijuana the night before, and a blood test more than five hours after the crash showed 1 nanogram of THC in her system and 33 nanograms of the active ingredient’s metabolite.
Power will sentence Greenwood on June 30, he said.
She normally would face up to five years in prison after pleading to the lesser charge, but prosecutors agreed to stay her sentence until the Court of Appeals decides whether to take the case or makes a ruling if it does, Tholen said.
Jesse Williams and others on Greenwood’s legal team want the court to determine if state and case law are unjust in allowing medical marijuana patients to drive with small amounts of THC in their blood, so long as they’re not impaired, yet penalizing other users for having any amount, even if they’re not impaired. He also wants them to rethink whether the state should consider marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, a category for drugs with no medical uses or safe way to administer them. Power previously ruled against defense attorneys’ motions on both issues.
“We have preserved her appellate rights and if we’re successful, the case could go away for her, or not,” he said.
Power agreed Friday that THC metabolites in Greenwood’s blood weren’t relevant to the case and shouldn’t be allowed as evidence. Williams and Frederik Stig-Nielsen, Greenwood’s co-counsel, pointed to an unpublished state Court of Appeals opinion where judges ruled the same.
Prosecutors will ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider this ruling, Tholen said. He had argued the evidence of the inactive metabolite would support the blood test result showing Greenwood had active THC in her blood.
But no expert testimony can determine how much active THC was in her blood at the time of the crash, if any, by considering the amount of metabolites, Power said.
Michigan’s strict law and no guarantee from the court that Greenwood wouldn’t have to serve a prison sentence made it hard for anyone facing such a sentence to reject a plea deal that could erase that possibility — innocent or not, Williams said.
“If she had a prescription for Marinol or just took Marinol and the test results were identical, the prosecutor would have to prove she was under the influence,” Williams said, referring to the trade name for pharmaceutical THC.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday.